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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, April 28, 2008
Family Portraits: Boy or Girl?
Posted by Maureen

Elva Martin sent me this picture to help settle a family reunion disagreement.

042808.jpg





















See the child in the second row on the far right? The one with a bow in the hair? Do you think this is a boy or a girl?



The picture is an example of confusing details even when you know the name of everyone in a photo.

Martin's clan is clear about this being the Peter Mower family. They even have a date for the picture, 1910.

It's that troublesome child causing the disagreement. "Petter" Mower, his wife and their nine children appear in the 1910 census for Saugerties, NY. Their oldest, Harry (age 16) stands proudly in the back. Leona (3) sits on her father's lap while baby Marion is with Mom.

The rest of the boys are Leory (15), Arnold (13), Adelbert (11), Orie (10), Louis (7) and Everett (5). Orie is supposed to be the child with the bow, but did boys wear bows in the their hair and long curls?  The answer is, sometimes!

I know I've written columns about the ways boys and girls wore their hair parted—boys on the side and girls down the center—but there are always exceptions. Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1886 book, Little Lord Fauntleroy, featured a main character named Cedric whose mother dressed him in a "black velvet suit, with a lace collar, and with love-locks."  You can read the whole text for free on the Project Gutenberg site.  But Burnett didn't start the trend, she only popularized it.

Throughout the centuries, there have been mothers who couldn't bear to cut the gorgeous curls from their little boys' heads. It appears Orie's mom couldn't either. Of all the children in the portrait, Orie resembles her the most.



He has her mouth, eyes, nose and even the same-shape face. Perhaps he was her favorite. It's impossible to know, unless there's a family story about Orie's place in his mother's affections.

Despite the family disagreement about his sex, this child is a boy.

E-mail me your old pictures of boys in curls and I'll feature them in a future blog. For now, this is another picture puzzle solved.

1910s photos | children | group photos
Monday, April 28, 2008 10:51:33 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, April 18, 2008
New Discovery in Photo History
Posted by Maureen

This story is so good I couldn't wait until next week to blog about it. The April 17 New York Times ran a story, "An Image is a Mystery for Photo Detectives." This is one mystery I wish I was actively working on.

Turns out William Fox Talbot probably wasn't the first person to develop paper images.

There was a circle of friends in England who tinkered with photographic processes as early as the 1790s. While the news doesn't change when daguerreotypes were patented (1839), this tale of photo detecting focuses on a series of clues relating to who took the images of leaves the New York Times reports on. 

I've written about provenance, i.e. the trail of ownership of an heirloom or photo, and in this one case it's key. Photo historians attributed these leaf pictures to Talbot, but now a historian familiar with his work doesn't believe that to be true. It's like a Pandora's Box of photo history. If this one picture isn't Talbots, then likely several others aren't attributed properly, too.

It's a great tale. Sotheby's is going to auction some of these pieces, but right now photo scholars are trying to figure out the true photographer.


photo news
Friday, April 18, 2008 4:33:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Belieu Babies
Posted by Maureen

Within moments of posting last week's column on the pictures of Catherine Denison Belieu and her babies, I received an e-mail from Midge Frazel, Denison family historian. Turns out there's nothing simple about those Belieu kids. Did Catherine have 11, 12 or 13 children? It's still being debated.

I wrote that the family traveled to Oregon by boat, but another family historian commented that the family could have traveled overland. She's right, but this family took the water route. You can read Midge's note about how the family got to Oregon by clicking Comments below last week's piece. 

So which babies are depicted in these portraits? Catherine's clothing is a simple dress with a small collar accented by a pin. This helps date the picture to a short time frame, the mid-1860s to at least 1869. After 1869, women's collars changed. Of course there's no guarantee Catherine stopped wearing her older clothing into the early 1870s.

Catherine and her husband, John Asbury Belieu, had several children in the late 1860s and early 1870s.
  • Sarah Naomi Alice, born Dec. 4, 1864; died June 13, 1867.

  • Jesse Leander, born Oct. 11, 1866.

  • M. Elizabeth Evalin, born Feb. 3, 1869. This Eva is supposed to be Carole Hayden's great-grandmother, but some genealogists claim this child died in 1872.  There's a mistake in here somewhere.

  • James Asbury Elmer, born Jan. 2, 1871
It's likely the two babies in the photos are two of these children, but it's difficult to assign names. I think that at least one of them is Sarah, who died in 1867. It was a common practice to pose for a picture with a first child.

The two images show different children. I've come to that conclusion by comparing the shapes of their heads—they're slightly different. Both children wear dresses, but you can't jump to the conclusion they're girls. The mother could be reusing a garment from her first baby.

Regardless of who's who, these two images are treasures for the Denison/Belieu family. Now here's a challenge to other descendants. Do you own pictures of Catherine with her other children? Send them in and let's really try to settle the question of which baby is which.


1860s photos | children | women
Tuesday, April 15, 2008 2:09:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, April 07, 2008
Family Travels and Family Photos
Posted by Maureen

Every family has significant events documented in photographs. For immigrant families, that usually meant taking a group picture before a loved one left home. The immigrant also often sent pictures home to show he'd arrived in one piece and was happy.

In some families, photographs don't actually document the travels, they become the icon for the retelling of a family story. Carole Hayden owns two images of women with a baby. She found them in a box of newspaper clippings saved by her great-great-grandmother, Catherine Lavinia Denison (born in 1848). 

When Catherine was a mere 2 years old, her parents took her to Oregon. In those days, that meant boarding a ship and sailing around the tip of South America. Approximately 6,000 other people also made that trip. If you've got an ancestor who decided to settle in Oregon in 1850, you can check his or her name against this online list of pioneers. It's not comprehensive and the Denison family doesn't appear there, but you might get lucky.

Now Catherine's descendant wants to know the significance of these two tintype images. Do they show the same woman?

040708Belieu1.jpg     040708Belieu2.jpg    

Definitely! These images depict the same mother, but is the baby the same?  That depends how many children Catherine Denison had with her husband Asbury Belieu. They married in 1863, and judging from her clothing, these two pictures were taken in the year or two after their marriage. Family history research would provide information on when their children were born and the sex of the babies. The babies in both images appear to be female.

I need to do a little more research before I can answer the rest of Carole's questions. Back next week with more!

By the way, thank you to everyone who added comments about last week's column. You'll have to look at the column and the comments to see my response :)


1860s photos | cased images | children | women
Monday, April 07, 2008 11:22:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Internet Tag: Happy Baby Photo
Posted by Maureen

I love the blogosphere! 

This week the sharp-eyed Kathryn M. Doyle of the California Genealogical Society sent me a posting she spotted on the Genealogue blog about a baby photo. Chris (the Genealogue) threw out a comment that he'd love to see what I'd say about this smiling, barely dressed tyke.

The photo shows a toddler in a droopy diaper. I can't copy the photo here, but you can see the original posting on the Swapatorium: A Journey Through Junkland blog. It's an odd picture. The child's stocking are dark; and the diaper, light-colored. He's probably around 2 years old.

But it's not his lack of attire that grabs the viewer. This kid's an optimist. His diaper is falling down and he's got to be uncomfortable, but he's happy. It's great to see a 19th-century picture of someone with a full grin—doesn't happen very often.

The wicker chair and animal-fur rug date the picture to as early as the 1890s. Anyone want to help me out by researching the photographer, Bigelow of St. Joseph, Mo.? 

Why pose him just in a diaper?  There are two reasons: First, the mother is showing off her healthy kid. Second, believe it or not, it was the style in the late-19th century to pose in your undies. I've got one I'll share sometime, a middle-age woman in a chemise.

Send me pictures of your smiling ancestors and I'll post them in my new SmugMug album. It's fun to see what's in other people's photo collections. SmugMug's security settings let me watermark your images and prevent right-click copying.


1890s photos | children
Tuesday, April 01, 2008 9:10:09 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]